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Year in Review 2021

Year in Review 2021

As the new year begins, the NCL Board is looking back over the successes of 2021 and considering how to build on them for the important advocacy and awareness work that lies ahead. Here are some highlights of our advocacy initiatives from the past year.

Accomplishments in 2021

Hill Briefing

In April, NCL partnered with VALUEUSA and ProLiteracy to provide a virtual Hill briefing entitled Literacy to Leadership: Policies That Promote Adult Student Success. Introductory remarks were provided by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI); Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA-03), Chairman, Committee on Education and Labor; and Congressman John Yarmuth (D-KY-03), Co-Chair, House Adult Literacy Caucus. The briefing speakers, including Kim Ford (CEO, Martha’s Table), Rachel DeVaughan (Deputy Executive Director, Mississippi Community College Board), Carlos Vasquez (Adult Education Instructor, Catholic Charities NM), and HollyAnn Fresa-Moore (Principal, Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School), stressed the many ways that policy decisions can make a transformative difference in the lives of adult learners. The briefing elicited a lively chat exchange among the 200+ attendees; a video recording is available at https://youtu.be/L-jBquG17VI.

Senate HELP Committee and WIOA Reauthorization

In April, NCL submitted a memo to Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) in response to the HELP Committee’s request for comments on workforce development and WIOA programs. NCL’s memo contained six recommendations:

  • Recognize the centrality of adult basic education to the success of workforce training and economic recovery efforts
  • Recognize that full and effective participation in the workforce requires the application of broader life skills
  • Amend deficit-based language that leads to deficit-based programming
  • Reorient adult basic education accountability and outcomes reporting toward a competency-based approach
  • Provide support for remote instruction models and the use of technology in adult education
  • Invest in research on evidence-based AEFLA program models

In providing these recommendations, NCL noted that they were designed to “improve the legislation so that it more fully realizes its essential purpose of ensuring equitable access to quality education and training for all adults.” NCL has continued to promote these recommendations throughout 2021 in its work with Senator Reed’s office on revised language for the WIOA legislation.

Digital Equity Act

In June, NCL endorsed the bipartisan Digital Equity Act of 2021, which was introduced by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rob Portman (R-OH). The Act, which provides for a five-year federal investment in digital equity, was passed as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was enacted by the 117th Congress and signed into law by the President on November 15. NCL had previously endorsed the Act in 2020 and has worked actively in support of its passage since then.

OCTAE and Department of Education Interactions

NCL participated in a series of invitation-only information-gathering sessions with OCTAE staff throughout the year. These sessions allowed NCL and other participants to update OCTAE on developments and activities in the field; the final session of the year was a face-to-face one-on-one meeting with Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal.

National Reporting System

In November 2020, NCL submitted comments on proposed changes to the National Reporting System. Our comments, which stressed the need to allow adult education programs to report outcomes for all learners across all types of measurable skill gains, aligned with those expressed by a number of our colleague organizations. OCTAE responded positively to these concerns, and in early 2021 issued a program memo providing revised guidance on outcome reporting in the pandemic environment.

Naturalization Civics Test

In December 2020, NCL submitted a letter to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to express concerns about the development process, administration procedures, and preparation requirements for the revised naturalization civics test that USCIS released in November 2020. Similar concerns were expressed by many of our colleague organizations. USCIS responded positively, and in early 2021 announced that it would continue to use the prior version of the civics test.

Civil Rights

Throughout the year, NCL continued its collaboration with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights as the Hub for adult education, addressing concerns related to finalization of data from the 2020 Decennial Census and signing on to several other civil rights and human rights related communications throughout the year.

Conference Presentations

NCL Board members provided advocacy-related presentations at major conferences throughout the year, including the annual conventions of TESOL International, COABE, AAACE, and the National Literacy Summit hosted by the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy in October.

Adult Education and Family Literacy Week

NCL’s 2021 National AEFL Week activities in September focused on the foundational role of adult education in solutions to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting recession and unemployment. In 2022, National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week will be observed from September 18 to September 24.

Organizational Growth

NCL completed its first full year with an Executive Director supporting the Board in its leadership role.

Plans for 2022

Every year, NCL actively pursues opportunities to promote adult education in policy-related matters. In 2022, we will

  • Improve adult education’s visibility and messaging as a key influencer to ensure our purpose and contributions to the U.S. education system are understood by policy makers, stakeholders, and the field
  • Increase awareness of the role adult education plays in digital equity, inclusive economic recovery, counteracting systemic racism, and social justice
  • Promote broadening of the options for accountability in adult education
  • Continue to work on organizational sustainability by increasing NCL’s membership base and securing external funding for our work

As always, we will conduct national public policy advocacy with Congress and keep our members connected with developments on Capitol Hill. NCL member organizations and individual friends will have opportunities to be involved in the national conversation on public policy through NCL’s semi-annual meetings, monthly public policy calls, conference panel discussions, and task groups.

Literacy to Leadership

Literacy to Leadership

Literacy to Leadership: Policies That Promote Adult Student Success was the focus of a Congressional briefing presented by NCL, VALUEUSA, and ProLiteracy on April 14, 2021. The briefing illustrated the power of adult education to transform lives and build the strength and resilience of communities.

The briefing opened with introductory remarks from three Congressional champions of adult education:

Briefing panelists included adults who have taken alternative education paths and are now leaders in the field, as well as practitioners with extensive knowledge of the role of policy in promoting high-quality adult education programs. 

  • Kim R. Ford, President and CEO, Martha’s Table, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education
  • Rachel DeVaughan, Ph.D., Deputy Executive Director, Programs at Mississippi Community College Board
  • Carlos Vasquez, Instructor, Catholic Charities of New Mexico
  • HollyAnn Fresa-Moore, Principal, Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School
  • Marty Finsterbusch, Executive Director, VALUEUSA

Recordings of the full briefing and the individual panelists’ presentations are available through the links below.

Full Briefing


Kim R. Ford


Rachel DeVaughan


Carlos Vasquez


HollyAnn Freso-Moore


Marty Finsterbusch

Census 2020: Your Senator Needs to Hear from You

Census 2020: Your Senator Needs to Hear from You

The Census Bureau has announced that it will terminate data collection at the end of September, rather than at the end of October as previously announced.

This change increases the likelihood that the 37 percent of residents who have not yet responded to the 2020 Census will not be counted. Those who have not yet responded are members of hard-to-count populations: rural residents, persons with low or no income, members of ethnic and racial minorities, persons with limited proficiency in English, and persons with low levels of educational attainment.

To be sure our adult learners and their families and communities are counted, we need Census 2020 data collection to continue through October 31.

The House-passed COVID-19 bill (the HEROES Act) provided for the October 31 deadline, but this extension is missing from the Senate’s COVID-19 bill. We must ensure that the COVID relief package, under discussion this week, includes language that will extend the 2020 Census deadline to ensure an accurate count.

What you can do:

  1. Encourage your adult learners to complete the Census right away themselves and to promote Census completion in their communities, online (my2020census.gov), by phone (1-844-330-2020), or on paper. It’s the best way to ensure support, accountability, and political representation for the community and its members.
  2. Call your Senators this week, while they are debating the Senate COVID-19 relief bill.

The Census Counts campaign has set up a toll-free patch-through line at 1-888-374-4269. When you call, you’ll be asked to provide your zip code. You’ll hear a pre-recording with details on what to say, and then be patched through to your Senator’s office.

Here’s a script for what to say to the staffer who takes your call:

Hi, my name is _______ and I am your constituent from (City and State). I am calling to ask the Senator NOT to cut the 2020 Census short and to extend the reporting deadline so the Census Bureau has the time it needs to count everyone. A rushed census results in an inaccurate representation of the country. Thank you for your time. 

You can also ask the Senator to sign on to Senator Schatz’ bipartisan letter to leadership asking for the deadline extensions in the next coronavirus package. Senators who wish to sign on should contact Trelaine Ito in Senator Schatz’s office, trlaine_ito@schatz.senate.gov.

3. Share this information and encourage others to contact their Senators too. Census Counts is particularly interested in outreach to these four Senators:

  • Senator Richard Shelby in Alabama
  • Senator Dan Sullivan in Alaska
  • Senator Martha McSally in Arizona
  • Senator Susan Collins in Maine

However, everyone is encouraged to participate in this effort – every Senator is important, and every constituent voice counts!

Thank you for all you do to provide and promote opportunities, resources, and representation for our adult learners and their communities.

A Giant Step for Digital Equity

A Giant Step for Digital Equity

Today Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Angus King (I-ME), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Gary Peters (D-MI) have introduced the Digital Equity Act of 2019.

The NCL is proud to endorse this legislation, which was developed by Senator Murray’s office with input and support from the NCL and numerous other organizations working for equal access for all. It defines “digital equity” and “digital inclusion” for the first time in statute, with a focus on enabling full participation in society and the economy. It specifically references underserved and overlooked populations, particularly adults who seek to develop their literacy, numeracy, and digital skills but lack access for geographic, economic, and other reasons.

The Act establishes two grant programs to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to promote digital equity nationwide:

  • Building Capacity within States through Formula Grants: The legislation creates an annual $125 million formula grant program for all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to fund the creation and implementation of comprehensive digital equity plans in each State.
  • Spurring Targeted Action through Competitive Grants: The legislation also creates an annual $125 million competitive grant program to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, and/or communities of interest.

The Act also promotes research and evidence-based policymaking. It tasks NTIA with evaluating digital equity projects and providing policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels with detailed information about which projects are most effective.

The Digital Equity Act of 2019 has the potential to help millions of Americans gain the digital tools they need to thrive. Feel free to share this post with your networks. Graphics for Facebook, Instagram (including stories), and Twitter, along with GIFs and a short video, can be found here. Learn more from Senator Murray’s new Medium Post “Why We Need the Digital Equity Act” here.

Call your U.S. Senators today and tell them it’s time for #DigitalEquityNow! It’s time to close the digital divide and focus on making sure communities with broadband access have the skills and knowledge to take full advantage of all the internet has to offer.

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